Poke-what?! by Joe Hartlaub

pokemon go

I vaguely remember my older daughter becoming briefly infatuated with something called “Pokemon” in the mid-1990s.  I bought packs of cards at toy and drug and grocery stores, and I think many of them are still around the house, languishing in  in a box mislabeled “silverware” or something under a bed or in a closet underneath some books. The internet wasn’t quite as pervasive back then as it is now; cell phones were the next generation of car phones, and an “app” was what you filled out when you heard about a job opening somewhere. Much has changed, and I thought that Pokemon had gone the way of eight track tapes, replaced by games that you played on your computer or phone called “Warcraft” or “Minecraft” (no, I don’t know what the difference is either).

Two weeks ago my nine-year old granddaughter mentioned Pokemon to me. I let it pass because she then started talking about reading BLACK BEAUTY and I wanted to encourage that over some role playing game. A few days later, however, I started hearing about something called “Pokemon Go.” It’s a smart phone application game that intersects with the real world and it seems to have taken over the minds of a segment of the population. People are breaking into buildings, jumping across rooftops, falling off of cliffs (Darwinism in action, perhaps?) and running through graveyards chasing the Pokemon. The news about it is all-pervasive. And that bothers the hell out of me.

jimmy books

Here is why. Did you know that James Patterson has launched two new book imprints? One is called “Jimmy,” and is aimed at getting younger people to read. The motto of this imprint is, “We want every kid who finishes a Jimmy Book to say: ‘PLEASE GIVE ME ANOTHER BOOK.’” Nice, huh? Patterson could have gone for the plug (notice how nicely “PLEASE GIVE ME ANOTHER JIMMY BOOK” would work) but he didn’t. Please give me another book. Like BLACK BEAUTY. Or The Hardy Boys, or Warriors. Or a Shell Scott… well, wait a few years on that. But give me anything but chasing some cyberworld construct around the city. Jimmy Books. Patterson launched this imprint about a year ago, and has been aided collaboratively by Chris Grabenstein, a fine and talented guy in his own right who has been fighting the fight for children’s literacy for awhile as well.  Did you know about this? No? Are there headlines all over about young folks reading these books? No? I know that a new book imprint for kids is not as exciting as falling into the ocean chasing some monster that doesn’t exist, but please. Patterson is tackling incipient illiteracy here. Isn’t that important too? And he’s pouring his share of the lucre back into reading programs. That sounds like dedication to me.

jim born

I said two imprints. The second was just launched a month or two ago and it’s aimed at adults who don’t read. It’s called Bookshots; each book features Patterson with collaborators such as Maxine Paetro or James O. Born (as well as a host of others) working across a number of genres. The books are around one hundred sixty pages apiece and and are priced at about four bucks. I know a lot of folks who have four bucks in Starbucks drive-through window change rolling around on the floor of their cars. They are designed to only require a few hours to read. And these books are entertaining. They’re not in the league of Cormac McCarthy or James Lee Burke, but your average adult who doesn’t read much anymore isn’t going to reflexively reach for a classic when the mood strikes them. Did you know about this? I just heard about it around a week ago. Where are the headlines? Patterson is launching this for the same reason he launched the Jimmy books: as he has indicated elsewhere, he wants people to exercise their brain muscle. God bless him. What he is doing may not be as glamorous or newsworthy as the fallout from a new phone app, but it’s certainly more important.

So, my fellow readers and authors: how do we get the word out? It obviously takes more than Facebook and Twitter. What can publishers do? What can we do? I’m not interested in what the book industry has been doing wrong recently…I want to know what you think could be done right, to help make reading a valued activity again. Any takers? Or is it a lost cause?

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22 thoughts on “Poke-what?! by Joe Hartlaub

  1. One of the positive comments about the Pokemon craze is it gets kids out of the house (for our grandson, this is a big plus). It’s also a time to check with Snopes for hoax reporting. I have no desire to download or use the app, although I admit to a modicum of curiosity as to whether any of these creatures have found our rural mountain locale. Probably.

    As for the ‘new’ kinds of books — same thing goes. “If it gets people reading, it’s okay.” And although Patterson’s Bookshots are touted as new, hasn’t the novella been around a long time? It’s nice to see publishers willing to get shorter works out there. But the price point bothers me. A full-lenth paperback novel is $7.99. A $4 novella seems outside the box. But then, traditional big name publishers price ebooks in the $14 range until the MMPB is released, which is a big pet peeve of mine.
    And your actual question — how to get more of the public on board with reading? I wish I knew. We started reading to our kids before they had a clue what language was. They used to finish half their library books before we made it home. We told them they had to go to bed before they wanted to, but they could keep the light on and read for an extra half hour (of course they’re bedtime was actually that post-reading time, but don’t tell them.)

    When I volunteered for the Adult Literacy League in Orlando, the number one reason people came in to join the program was so they could help their children with homework. This shifted when the economy tanked, and became “to get a better job.”

    And I’ve totally skirted your issue, haven’t I? It’s still early here.

    • Terry, you can skirt anything you want here! Or circle back and hit the target. We’re always glad to see you.

      I take your point about getting out of the house, but there isn’t exactly a lack of outdoor activities available for the youngsters if that’s the aim. There’s swimming, walking, bicycling, plus of course, weeding and mowing lawns, particularly on vacant or abandoned properties. Then there is Habitat for Humanity, food bank volunteering, elder visits…not all of these are fun, but none of them remotely involve trespassing, either.

      Re: price points…that’s a topic for another time, but I note that all of this is being brought to us by James’ publisher Hachette. Bless them for it, and I want them to make so much money that they are in business for the next century, but. But. Major publishers could make more money if they would lower their prices by a dollar or two (or in some cases, four) because they would sell more books, more than enough to make up for the difference in price. I might make this a subject for a blog down the road, because it gives me the “crimson posterior,” if you will. Thanks always for stopping by.

      • It’s not that there’s a lack of things to do outside (mileage varies with geography and climate) but that kids don’t want to go outside because watching YouTube streaming how to play Minecraft is too compelling. Everything’s an app, but at least this one requires moving about. My grandson whined about even a 5 minute excursion to the mailbox, but now he’ll go out for an hour (and his dad’s having more fun than the kid, I’m sure)

        Looking forward to your price point post — I’ve just requested 3 more new-release books from the library.

        • Thanks for the library plug, Terry. I was talking to a friend a couple of months ago about a book and suggested he try the library. There was a moment of silence and then he said, “Oh. Yeah. I never even thought of that. Do you know where it is?” Sigh.

  2. Kids reading habits are discouraging, no doubt. But I seem to recall that reading has always been an issue in my lifetime. So maybe it is just amplified by technology and lowering of education standards today. Growing up, I was a heavy reader, but many of my classmates were “jocks” or people who thought reading was for nerds. I have a man in my church Bible study class who is in his 70’s who bragged one time that he had never read a book once he got out of school. I told him how sorry I was for him.

    I am trying a one man crusade to get my grandsons to read. My oldest grandson is thirteen and has had type 1 diabetes for five years. He is my hero, battling that horrible disease. I am writing a serialized novel based on him. A fictionalized boy with diabetes is on a photography trip in Indonesia with his wildlife photographer grandfather, based loosely on me, and they are shipwrecked on an island populated by Komodo Dragons. I send my grandson a chapter when I get it written and he reads it, shares it with his brothers and with his friends at school. So far it seems to be a hit, he’s always bugging me for another chapter.

    It is not much, but maybe I can get a few kids to enjoy reading who otherwise might still be buried in a computer game. Great post, Joe, as usual.

    • Dave, I second Phil and Cecilia. We’ll include your grandson in our thoughts and prayers. He is very, very lucky to have you. And when you’re done with that serial…you might, with his permission, share it with a wider audience. It sounds really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  3. That’s what Pokemon Go is all about? I had no idea (my granddaughters are way too young). I think Patterson is doing admiral work to get readers, young and old, to read. What a shame that his efforts aren’t making the headlines. I’m not sure what the answer is for world literacy. Reading really needs to start at home, IMO. If parents encourage reading, the child will grow to appreciate books. Even at three years old my eldest granddaughter loves her books, because her parents and my husband and I have drilled the message home that inside a book’s pages lies new worlds and adventures. In fact, books are her favorite presents. She’s an author’s dream child. It looks like her younger sister will follow suit, too. So maybe that’s the answer. If we educate parents to encourage reading, the next generations will love books.

    • I agree, Sue. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Reading really does need to start at home. I get depressed when I walk into a home and don’t see anything at all to read or (worse) bookshelves that seem to be used for storage. All of my children were readers and I’m so happy that my son has instilled that in his daughter. She found Black Beauty on her own, too, which I thought was really impressive. And now…she’s working on a novel of her own. Pretty good for nine years old. Thanks again.

  4. Joe, Pokemon Go is just the latest aspect of the way smart phones are taking over the world. I have to chuckle (to myself) when I hear of people walking off cliffs (apocryphal, but I still chuckle) while playing the game.
    As a writer, I’ve wrestled with the question of why more people don’t read, and I don’t have the answer. If the efforts of James Patterson and his publishers pay dividends, power to them. Unfortunately, I have seen a shift from a TV mentality to a smart phone mentality, while books are left in the dust. Sad.
    Having dropped that ray of sunshine into the conversation, I’ll thank you for your post (really…no, I really appreciate it), and get back to my writing.

    • Thank you Richard, and it is I who appreciates you for stopping by and contributing once again. Re: smart phones…I did see a woman in line at Chipotle reading a Kindle app on her smartphone. I wanted to ask her what she was reading but I get in enough trouble :-).

  5. All right…I’ll just admit it…I’m level nine yellow team and my husband’s level 15. We’re going kayaking today in the Colorado mountains and I can’t wait to shove my phone in about three layers of zip-lock bag and see what wild Pokemon are waterside! It’s interactive fun that DOES get you out of the house.
    But how to incorporate literacy?
    Well, if your child is interested in video/PC games, use that interest to your advantage by playing some classic games together. Before cartridges and discs had the space for voice acting, or the budget, there were epic blurbs of text across the screen. An entire story of text. Zelda (Classic adventure of boy trying to rescue girl while becoming a hero along the way), any Final Fantasy, even Castelvania (Vampire lord reclaiming his goul-infested castle).
    They may not be on paper, but video games are interactive stories and they can be a great segue into novels.
    Does your child play fantasy or sci-fi themed games? Why not suggest books in the genre they already find compelling?
    Maybe one way to get this widespread is by having stores stock movies, books and video games together on the same shelves by genre instead of treating them like separate entities that can’t breathe each others air. They’re all forms of story telling so why not sell them that way?

    • Good luck with your efforts, A.S.P., and i would note that if you are stopping by here you obviously are not totally addicted to Pokemon Go! Cecilia made a good point, I thought, and I did see an article that noted that some players are stopping into bookstores to get accessories and wind up surprised at what bookstores have. So there you go. Thanks and once again good luck!

  6. Good afternoon, Joe

    Great post and discussion. Some good ideas have been suggested.

    I read your post earlier this morning, then had time to think about it while I was doing other things. Dangerous. My wife has learned to just listen and laugh at my crazy ideas. So here’s a crazy one:

    How about a new app? How about an app that could be used by groups of authors, or publishers, or any organization that is focused on writing. The app would be built to be used as a template, so that any of the above groups could use it to create their own smart phone game. The app would create a series of challenges that could be met – one at a time – by searching books (the books from a group of authors, the books published by given publisher, etc). It would be basically a scavenger hunt through books, and probably done at a library. Writers of specific games could publicize or reward winners, and publishers could help create prestige for successful contestants.

    If children (and adults) are in love with interacting with their smart phones, let’s meet them where they are. Give them a reason to interact with books. Give them a competition so they can compete with others and see their standing. Reward them in various ways including prestige. In the end, make it “cool” to read.

    Just a crazy thought. Thanks for getting us thinking.

  7. Steve. My man. Crazy like a fox. You might have hit on something. I came across an app that has the user photograph their bookshelf and then sets you up with the ebook version of what you have physically (if an ebook version is available). It also lets you share photos of your shelf with other users. I don’t remember the name of the app because parts of it were too complicated (I can’t even get my ringtone off of the default, so don’t mind me. Riiiiiing. Riiiiing.). Anyway, what you said reminded me of what the local library did when I was a wee lad just a few years ago (…). It was a summer reading program, and they gave you a sheet of paper with three rows of personified books on parade. Every time you read a book you went in and told the librarian what you had read and a little bit about the book. She would then put a book sticker on one of the book figures. The idea was to complete a sheet. I had several sheets that I completed one summer and that was the best summer ever (I hadn’t discovered New Orleans at that point). Take that concept, and your idea, and we might have something. Anyone out there know a bright fifteen year old who can design apps?

    Thanks Steve! You are eternally the smartest guy in the room. Hope your weekend is going well.

  8. I was in the AT&T store today, seeking help with my glitchy phone. While waiting, I perused the store, checking out an iPhone which offered a pre-loaded Amazon icon. Cool idea to order books on your phone, except I’d have to enlarge the font so much, only one three-letter word at a time could appear on the screen.

    Then across the store, I noticed bookshelves with what appeared to be books on them…until I got closer. It turned out to be, I kid you not, a ceramic statue of books. Is this what we’ve been reduced to?

    • Debbie, that is…depressing. I’ve actually at times enjoyed going into furniture stores, etc. and looking at real volumes on shelves, to see what they have. In some cases I’ve actually sat and read the books. Ceramic? I’m bummed. But thank you for sharing. I hope that isn’t where we’re heading. And I hope you got your phone problems straightened out. I’ve found sometimes that I get better information by googling the problem than I do in the phone store. Thanks for stopping by and contributing.

  9. I’ll ‘fess up. I’m only on Pokemon Go level 4, but my 16 yr old son hit level six today! As everyone has said here, love of reading does begin at home. When we give children undivided attention it makes a huge impression, and I think the warm fuzzies work hand-in-hand with exercising the imagination. When we get older, those memories stay in some form. My son wanted to exclusively read his own books or do other things by the time he was eight, though my daughter loved to be read to until she was 11 (in addition to reading her own books). My son reads non-fiction–usually in magazines and on the web. He wants information all the time!

    My husband teaches creative writing to grad and undergrad students, and, frankly, most of them have read shockingly few books. He connects the stories they’re familiar with to books from the past, helping them see where they came from. These kids often have a sophisticated understanding of how story works because they’ve been consuming them via television and gaming–often from their earliest days. But I am worried for books as a story medium. Reading engages the brain in ways that passive viewing cannot. The good news is that people are still telling stories. I applaud Mr. Patterson for inventing and investing in ways he can make a difference for both adults and kids who aren’t big readers. We all have a vested interest in not only a literate populace, but also future fans. : )

    • Laura, thank you so much for dropping by! Laura is one of my favorite authors (not to mention favorite people), but don’t tell anyone. I am HOWLING over the news that you are Level 4, Laura (the husband Laura mentions — Pickney — is an amazing author in his own right, and the editor of some anthologies of original southern literature. Lots of talent in that family).

      That the undergrads in a creative writing class aren’t big readers is sad news, Laura. I don’t know how one can do one without the other. Did they take the class thinking it would be easy? I bet they got a shock. Thanks for stopping by and sharing (and everyone, don’t forget to read Laura’s TKZ blog every other Wednesday).

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